Things I Wish I Knew: Q&A with author Karen Katchur

Ever wonder how published authors balance writing and the rest of their lives? Or what it’s like to have that breakthrough moment with a manuscript? Karen Katchur, author of THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne), has some answers for you. Karen’s first novel THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD was declared a “Best Summer Debut” by Library Journal. Her next novel is set to be published in early 2017. Follow her on Twitter.

On writing schedules, inspiration, advice to her former self, and the rollercoaster of emotions that is writing…here’s a Q&A with Karen Katchur:

What is some advice you’d go back and give your unpublished self?

The only thing I can think of is to stop worrying so much. Control what I can. And stop worrying about the things I can’t. I have a feeling I’ll be telling my future self this as well. It’s something I need to work on.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

My writing days all start the same. I exercise first thing in the morning after the kiddos leave for school. It’s during this time that I think about what I’m working on that day whether it’s a particular scene, or character, or plot point. Then I take notes before hopping in the shower. Sometimes I come up with the best ideas in the shower! I don’t think I’m alone in this. I sit at my desk for the rest of the day until my kiddos get home from school. Some days I’m able to get another hour or two of writing time in after they’re home. On a typical day I write anywhere from three to six hours. That’s not to say some of those hours aren’t spent staring at a blank page on the computer screen!

How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Since my schedule revolves around my family’s schedule, I have to be flexible. And balancing the house chores, the kids, the pets, etc… is a daily battle. Some days I succeed and some days I don’t. I think it’s about prioritizing. If a deadline is approaching then the cleaning and laundry and other daily chores have to wait. Also, unless I have a deadline looming, I only write Monday through Friday. I take weekends off to spend with my family. I find I need the break from whatever I’m working on to think and come back to it with fresh eyes. I don’t subscribe to the “write every day” rule. I need time away from the writing in order to think, to feel, to figure out my characters, their motivations, the plot or whatever it is I’m working on.

Can you describe a moment when you’ve had a “breakthrough” with your
manuscript?

There’s such a feeling of euphoria when things finally click whether it’s with understanding your character, or getting yourself out of a plot hole. While I was writing THE SECRETS OF LAKE ROAD, I remember struggling with the plot and trying to find a way to connect the past and present mysteries that felt natural for the story. I think I brainstormed with you, Carly! I can’t reveal what we came up with since I don’t want to give anything away, but it was such an easy fix because the groundwork was already there, and it made sense for the story. It’s on those days you feel brilliant. Nothing can stop you! Until the next problem with the character or plot or setting or whatever. It truly is an emotional rollercoaster hitting all the highs and lows. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, Why am I doing this to myself? And then I have a day where it all comes together, and I’m like, Oh yeah, that’s why!

What are you reading now?

I just finished THE GOOD GOODBYE, by Carla Buckley- fantastic read! And I’m just starting PRETTY GIRLS, by Karin Slaughter. Up next, ONE MORE DAY, by Kelly Simmons

Karen Katchur is a full-time fiction writer and winner of a short story award. She is an active member in both the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and Romance Writers of America and has held various board positions in the local chapter, Pocono Lehigh Romance Writers. When she’s not reading or writing, she instructs fitness classes and holds a M. Ed in Health and Physical Education as well as a B.S. in Criminal Justice. She lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters.

Further reading: Karen Katchur in Writer’s Digest

“This beautiful, heartbreaking, and affecting debut, reminiscent of the work of Heather ­Gudenkauf, will have readers craving more from Katchur.” – Library Journal

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Things I Wish I Knew: Taylor Jenkins Reid, 4 Books Later

OneTrueLovesFinalFor the next instalment of “Things I Wish I Knew,” this author needs no introduction: Taylor Jenkins Reid. She is an author, essayist, and TV writer from Acton, Massachusetts. Her debut novel, Forever, Interrupted, has been optioned with Dakota Johnson attached to star. She is adapting her second book, After I Do, for Freeform, formerly known as ABC Family. Her most recent novel, Maybe In Another Life, has been featured in People, US Weekly, Cosmo, and more. One True Loves will be released in June. In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in the Los Angeles TimesThe Huffington Post, xoJane, and a number of other blogs. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.

You are now 4 books into your career! If you had some advice for your debut author self, what would it be?

I’d probably warn myself to be patient. That first book felt like the only book for so long — and now I’m working on my fifth. I think I felt pressure back then to make my debut represent everything I wanted to say. But most people, when writing a debut, are trying to start a life-long career. Think of your debut as the first of many, not your only shot at the plate. 

What do you see as the author’s role on social media platforms?

It’s about showing readers who you are. I know when I fall in love with a book, or a TV show, or a movie, I start Googling everyone involved after I’m done in the hopes of delaying the end as long as possible. Finding the authors of the books that spoke to you, learning who they are, can be an extension of the reading experience. I’m not a commodity but if I was, I’d like to think of myself as the DVD special features of my own work. 

Can you talk about how you draft and what your schedule looks like from research to finished manuscript?

Ha! I swear, I think I have a plan all sorted out with each book and then it never goes the way I think it will. For the most part, I start with a beginning and an ending in mind and I start writing. I try to write between 3-5k a day. That’s a high word count and I can stick to it because during my first draft stages, I do absolutely nothing else. I don’t have much of a life for those 4-6 weeks. 

Once the first draft is done, I let it sit on my computer untouched for as long as I can, schedule-wise. And then I come back to it, read it, make a list of everything that isn’t working, and get started editing — again a certain amount of words per day. Hopefully, by the end of it, I have something that won’t embarrass me. (But that is not always the case…)

You’re published in 14 languages. What has it been like seeing the foreign editions of your work come in? What’s your favorite cover?

This is probably the most surreal of the book publishing experiences, mostly because I can’t read my own work! It’s been interesting to see what I can piece together and what I can’t. And it’s been very fun to learn how different countries market books. I think my favorite covers so far have been the Spanish editions. They are so bright and inviting! Italy also did a very cool “date with a book” campaign where Forever, Interrupted was sold in a gorgeous paper-bag-like sheath with a general, vague description of the emotional through-line of the book. I loved that.

What can readers expect from you next? 

Next up is One True Loves — out June 7th. It’s about a woman who marries her high school sweetheart only to have his plane go missing. Years later, after she has become engaged to someone else, he’s found alive, ready to come home to her. I like to think of it as Cast Away from Helen Hunt’s point of view. 

This book is a perfect example of a draft that did not go the way I scheduled. But it turned out to be one of my favorites — all the better for the time it took. 

4 Reasons Agents Want to Work With Storytellers

1_50e07351ddf2b32d2600b4e8Author is the name that everyone throws around. But what about storytellers? Storytelling is also known as a verbal art, but storytelling in terms of the words on a page is what agents are looking for in the slush pile. In the slush we know that writers are just beginning their journey so we’re looking for a glimmer of the future. So what that means is that we’re looking for writers who know how to craft curiously.

We are looking for interesting characters, smart but ambitious plots, hidden turns of events, and larger than life settings. Life is all in the details, are so are storytellers.

4 Reasons Agents Want To Work With Storytellers

1. Storytelling transcends the page. — Crafting a tale that is big, real, honest, curious and insightful is something that doesn’t just live in books. It can become a part of our culture that is so much bigger than that. Good storytellers write books that are cinematic, great for TV series, or live on in their fans’ minds for years to come. Good writers know how to make the details of their story the way to their readers’ hearts. If you can write rich detail, we can follow you to visit the Roman Empire, the Romanov Family, an Australian lighthouse, or 1800s Iceland. And readers will follow you anywhere you go. Details are what make settings come alive whether we’ve been there or not.

2. Storytelling is about telling the right story the right way. — There are pantsers and there are plotters, we all know. I am in awe of plotters who have their outlines down to a science–it’s an amazing thing to watch someone execute that! I’m also curious about pansters and how their stories come full circle after they’re not sure where it’s going to go. First person or third? 1 POV or 4 POVs? How do you know what you’ll need to write your novel the best way? Often you don’t at the beginning. Especially writers who are just starting out in their careers–they don’t have enough novels under their belts to best know how to craft for different tales. When you think about organization from a storytelling point of view, you’ll start to ask yourself if you’re telling the story the best way. When things don’t work–holes in your plot, characters not feeling real, a mystery that is not so secret–it’s usually because you’re not telling it the right way. Are you in the right head at the right time? Did you start in the right place? Remember to be curious about the way you tell your story and always ask if it’s the right way.

3. Storytelling is what will get you out of funks and writer’s block. — The perfect way to tell a story is to start with a question or character. What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it? What conflict is going to come into their life? Creative people are always living their lives with open ears and open notebooks. Go back to your frenetic notebooks from years past: Is there a character in there whose story needs telling? A question that needs answering? A thought that needs exploring? The truth of novels is meeting a character at an interesting point in their lives so can you do that for us?

4. Storytelling is the fabric of our lives. — Gossip about friends. That podcast you listen to. The story you make up in your head about the person in front of you at the grocery store. The song you’re listening to right now. Great storytellers are the ones who can listen to the world and boil thoughts down to complex characters and external drama. We are all multi-faceted people. We are all living dramatic lives. To simplify our existence to characters that live in boxes is inauthentic and where agents and editors lose interest in projects. All readers know that 1D characters are a lie. All readers know that obvious plotting is going to bore us. When novels come to life is when characters don’t fit a label because we, as people and readers, get curious about the unknown. Write your stories like we live our lives, sometimes messy, but in retrospect we can always see the threads. Don’t write in themes, write in stories.

***

Instead of staying in your “gotta get published, gotta follow structure” mind-set, why not come back to your creative roots and think about what the story is and the best ways of telling it. When you come back to that place of being curious about your character’s secret and stories the heart and honesty of your truthful writing will prevail.

[I wish I knew where that graphic quote came from, but I don’t. Sending good vibes to the creator out there on the web.]

Check self-entitlement at the door. Your novel is a fresh start.

Emmitt Smith

No matter where you are in your life or your writing the road to publication starts off at the same point for everyone: unknown debuts. It’s easy to carry things from your life into your writing–expectations of success, timelines, ideas about working relationships and more–but, you have to be easy on yourself, let go of comparison to other writers, and let go of any expectations you are projecting.

Remember: You’re starting at the beginning and for many, it’s the first time you’ve started from scratch in awhile.

How are you going to leave your perceptions about your writing behind and start on the road to publication?

Goal setting

Set realistic goals for your writing. How many words are you going to write per day? When do you want to have your book on submission? Envision your plan from the start and develop a sensible strategy to get there.

Workshops

Just like when you studied in school, you need to train in your craft. Take a short story writing class. Do an online workshop. Buy a writing guide like Stephen King’s On Writing.  Make an effort to learn about the industry you want to be a part of. These are gifts only you can give yourself.

Evaluate your natural skill

Now’s the time to evaluate whether you’re cut out for the publishing business. This should be done early on. Do you have thick skin? Do you see books on the shelf and reasonably think that you can sit along side them? Are you working on a project that will catch the attention of agents and editors?

Write Continue reading Check self-entitlement at the door. Your novel is a fresh start.